I haven't done a ton of private teaching, I'll admit, but I've learned some things from the little experience I have, and I've heard "horror-stories" from friends of what not-to-do. I'm an optimist, so I'm going to focus on the things TO DO or must-knows, as I like to call them.
But first! Let me explain that I, personally, prefer working for a university or college. Recruiting students can be a challenge, especially if you're wanting to make private teaching your main source of income.
Sometimes students "fall into my lap," just from being an instructor at a university or college, so I sometimes end up private teaching. (That happened to me this summer. I'm teaching two Chinese students, referred to me by a fellow ESL instructor). Each time, it's adventure!
My first piece of advice when considering private teaching is...
For example, I'm used to teaching college-age, so I wouldn't feel comfortable teaching anything younger. If I'm not comfortable, I won't enjoy the teaching. Of course, you want to be open-minded, but it's still a good thing to think about and consider when you're thinking about private teaching ESL.
2. Know what you are good at.
I like reading and writing, so that's what I offer for private teaching. I'm qualified to teach Listening and Speaking, and still do a bit of that, but I tell students straight-up that my strength in teaching ESL is reading, grammar, and writing, especially academic essays and creative writing. What are your strengths? What do you enjoy?
3. Know how to assess needs.
You're assessing what they want to learn and what they already know. The first day I meet with someone for private teaching, I give him/her a little form to fill out. The first half asks general questions: how long have they been learning English? What kind of skills are they hoping to learn from me? I have them tick boxes for some of the questions, almost as a shopping list for what I can offer.
The second half is a little grammar and vocabulary assessment. Then, if I know he/she wants help with writing, I give a little writing assessment. (It usually takes about 20 minutes). I'm including my latest drafts of assessments at the bottom of this blog.
My assessments don't end there, though. People like to know they're getting what they paid for. This summer, I've started using "exit tickets," which is something you give student at the end of each lesson. It's a quick card that asks what the student liked about the lesson, what they'd like to learn more about and/or what they think would improve the lessons. I also fill out one, telling them where I think they're starting to improve in.
4. Know what to charge.
Every state and country is a little different, but most private teachers (right now) are charging somewhere between $20-$75 an hour. If you have a TESOL certification and/or degree, AND you have experience in teaching, you can charge on the higher end. Of course, if you're nice like me, I usually land in the middle ($40-$50 an hour).
The best advice given to me? Have a contract and ask for the payment upfront. It's not rude. It's business. This summer, I'm teaching a Chinese couple, and I tell them to pay me for the entire week on every Monday. Of course, you can have them pay for the month or two months in advance, depending on how you want to do it, but always get payment upfront.
Middle-Eastern students, by the way, will negotiate the price and form of payment. Other students will as well, but Middle-Eastern students are notorious for bartering. My advice is to only negotiate if you feel comfortable with it; otherwise, just state the price and stick to it. If they want lessons bad enough with you, they'll pay the price you ask for.
5. Know your personal limits.
Private teaching is unique because you're basically tailoring the learning to meet the individual. In that way, it's quite rewarding. It can, however, consume a lot of your time. Again, students want to know that they're getting their "money's worth." Your lessons need to be organized, professional, and thorough.
Don't take on too many students, especially if you have other commitments.
BONUS: Know where to meet.
If you're meeting with students via Skype or some other online mode, make sure you clean-up your room and dress professionally. It can be easy to just "go to work" in pajamas, but that can lower your credibility with students.
If you're doing it face-to-face, know where you're going to meet. My friend had a spare room in her apartment and set-up her private teaching in there, but not all of us have that luxury or feel comfortable with "strangers" in our homes. I suggest a library or some other study space. Most libraries allow you to reserve a room. Right now I'm meeting my private-teaching students on campus in one of the study lounges. That works for us. Choose somewhere that works for you and make it consistent. Try not to change the location and time of lessons too often.
That's about all I have for you today. Enjoy the documents below. Tweak them to your needs. Happy teaching!
In PART 1 of this blog post, I talked about calculating grades. It's something they didn't teach me when I became a teacher. I think they don't teach it because it's stressful, subjective, and sometimes boring.
Actually, I remember having a teaching coach (an experienced teacher to answer my questions) my first semester. I started as a full time instructor in an intensive ESL program. When I asked about calculating grades, my assigned teaching coach showed me how she "did it." She might have explained the whole points-thing and percentage-thing, but I just remember feeling overwhelmed with the task of navigating and entering in those grades on Blackboard and SIS. (Canvas is better, by the way!) The first time I calculated grades for my students, my hands shook; I wanted them to get A's, but some hadn't done the work, so I'd probably have to fail them. I stressed about being unfair. I worried what would happen to these students that I had to fail. I thought about the students who worked hard all semester. Was I entering in their grades in a way that would reflect their good work?
I cried at my computer desk until a coworker (thank goodness) saw me crying and put her arm around me. I called my dad (who used to teach), and he talked me through it. I got them done in time, but this first experience in calculating grades has never entirely left me.
My students' grades are important to me. I'm glad I've developed a better way of calculating grades because my students can know where they stand earlier on in the semester... and maybe do something about it. However, there are a lot of students, I've learned, who, unfortunately, don't think about (or care about) their grades until it's too late.
STUDENTS WHO CHALLENGE THEIR GRADES
Again, it's something they didn't teach me in my Master's degree. We never had a unit on "what to do or say if a student is unhappy with his/her grade." Thankfully, when I started teaching, I had a roommate offer this important mantra: Teachers don't give grades; students earn them.
I inhale this statement every time I calculate grades and/or conference with students about grades. I've put it in my email signature, adding the phrase: I'm here to help you earn the best grade possible. Because that's how I see my job as instructor.
I want my students to earn good grades. I can't force them. I can't make them do it. But I reach out as best I can throughout the semester. I've developed a "how to calculate your own grade" handout so they can experience the kind of hard work I go through every time I sit down to enter in grades. (I think students think I randomly pick a grade for them.) I'm not sure how many students utilize this resource, but I make it available at the beginning, the middle and the end of the semester. Luckily, math talks. Most of these upset students do the math at home (or with me), and they gulp the news down okay. They may not be happy with it and try to get me to accept late work (which I don't), but they, at least, understand where the grade came from.
The majority of the students that argue their grades with me are Arabic. I didn't understand why for a long time, but I finally learned an Arabic concept. For many of the Middle East countries, they have what they call wasta which is loosely translated as "nepotism" or "who you know." They often feel that they can negotiate or "talk" their way into the grade they want. It works in their country. Why not in the USA? I remember that a teacher at the intensive program I started at had a mug that said, "NO WASTA." She'd put that on her desk during finals week as a reminder that that's not how it works here.
I seem to always forget it in the heat of the moment, but there's also another Arabic phrase that helps students to accept their grades. That is Inshallah, which means, "if God wills it." It is something that tells them that it's "out of my hands now," which it is when they're asking the last day what they can do to get the grade they want. I always tell them that's a great question... for 8 or 9 weeks ago. It's too late now. Sorry. Inshallah.
Hubby is quick to point out sob stories to me. I'm getting better at it, but I tend to believe that my students don't lie. (I know, weird, huh?) The problem with sob stories is that even if they're true, there's usually not much I can do to help, especially if a student didn't communicate about it earlier in the semester. I often want to ask, "Why is this just now being brought up, the last day of the semester?" I get sob stories from all cultures, by the way. And they just make me feel horrible because, like I said, there's usually nothing I can do about them. I hate it.
So there you have it. If I didn't have to worry about grading, I'd be perfectly satisfied with teaching. If you teach, I hope my experiences help you. Otherwise, thanks for reading my rantings.
In all my years of studying to become an ESL teacher, not once did they teach me how I should calculate grades and what to do if a student challenges his/her grade.
The thing I hate about teaching are grades. Gosh, if I could just teach, and students could just learn and not have to worry about calculating grades or conferencing with students why they earned an F in my class--- I'd enjoy teaching a heck of a lot more!
I'm not going all hippie on you (don't worry). I'm not saying that we should do away with the standard grading system, which at the college I work for is:
90-100% = A
80-90% = B
70-80% = C
60-70% = D
< 60% = F
Grades motivate students. They inform advisors what kind of scores they earned in the past and/or what subjects they struggle with, and it's a way to earn scholarships, etc. That's all pretty straight forward. Let's not change that.
I'm not a fan of the math, but even that isn't too bad if I have a clear plan for how many points I want to award each assignment, which, until recently, I didn't.
I just made up assignments as I went, assessing my students on what I taught (which they did teach me to do in my Master's degree!) when I felt like I needed to know if they were processing what I was teaching. I'd usually try to keep the points simple, like 10 points, 50 points, 100 points, depending on how crucial I thought the assignment was. Then, at the end of the semester, I'd add up all these assignments, plug them into Canvas or Blackboard, and bam! there's my students' grades. It took a long time because I'd do a lot of "little" assignments, and my eyes would get crossed eyed from looking at the computer screen for so long. Thank goodness for Hubby who read my grades off for me (which I always recorded by hand).
About two years into teaching, I decided I needed a better way to calculate grades because students often wanted to know where they stood not only at the end of the semester, but in the middle or at any point, so I started plugging in all these assignments into Canvas/Blackboard earlier. Every Thursday or Friday, I'd spend a good hour or two plugging in stuff for my classes. In a way, this was better because I was spreading out the data entry, but I still felt like I wasn't very accurate in grading. I always felt like I could do better. I felt like I was doing it the "hard way," but I had never been taught any way to calculate grades, let alone a simpler or better way to do it.
The 1,000 Points System
I'm embarrassed to admit, but it was only last year that I decided that I'd decide at the beginning of a semester to have a set number of points to award my students. Hubby suggested 1,000. It's a good large number, but not too difficult to work with mathematically.
This allowed me to say stuff like, well--- writing projects are super important, so I'll have all of their essays (collectively) add up to 450 or 500 points. Participation is important, but shouldn't outweigh their writing because the majority of objectives for this class is writing, so I'll have that worth 100 points. I could confidently tell my students up front that they would be working towards 1,000 points. It made it easier for them to calculate their own grades, which was really great!
I still did quite a bit of data entry, but I soon learned to cluster assignments in this way, so students could see what each assignment belonged (i.e participation or writing project, etc.).
I still hate the math. I still get stressed entering in grades. I'm always worried that I'm entering in the wrong grade for a student, but I'm getting better.
It's dealing with those students that want to argue their grade. I really hate that. READ PART 2.
My best friend is teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) in China. (Well, technically it's called English as a Foreign Language--- EFL) She's been asked to teach an ESP (English for Special Purposes) course. Engineering.
Neither of us know anything about engineering. She's been doing as much research as she can as she meaningfully puts her lesson plans together, but she sent me an email an hour ago pleading for online resources. As many of you may know, China has a lot of restrictions on their Internet use; therefore, her resources are limited.
I did some googling. I found some stuff. I turned them into pdfs for my friend. In the process, I found some new favorite websites!
This experience has gotten me thinking about my favorite ESL online resources, so today I will share with you 5 of my favorite online resources. I could have done more, but 5 just seemed like a nice number. Let's get started!
1. Dave's ESL Cafe
This is a classic website. If you teach ESL and you haven't heard of Dave's ESL Cafe, you haven't lived! Find lots of great videos, idioms, exercises and more!
2. English Page
I regularly send my students to this website, especially if they have problems with verb tenses, which is my favorite feature in this website. I love all the verb tense diagrams and endless practices.
3. ESL Right Now
This is one of the sites I found when I was helping my friend look for Engineering stuff. Even though I don't teach ESP, it's a site I'll probably use in the future because there's more to it than ESP stuff.
4. Using English
This is another one of the sites I found when I was helping my friend find things for Engineering. I literally got lost in here! I'll have to keep this one on my radar for sure!
5. Azar Grammar
Betty Azar is a genius! If you've been teaching ESL for a while, then you've probably heard of (or used) her famous books. But did you know that she's created PowerPoints for all of her lessons? There are handouts and additional grammar practice, too!
You know---- I probably could have gone to 100! It's an awesome time to be an ESL teacher (or ESL student.) I didn't even touch on:
And, of course, there are a number of blogs, like mine, that talk about teaching ESL. Mine is more of a musing, but there are blogs that actually have lesson plans you can steal!
According to the book link you sent me, I choose 3 books as my reading options:
1. The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien (330 pages)
The Hobbit is my first choice for a book project. I'm interested in this book because I'm a big fan of the lord of the Rings movies. This book has been on my personal reading list for a while. Unfortunately, I have been putting it off for later time. I think now is later.... I would definitely be interesting to see how Bilbo Baggins character evolves throughout the book....
This is just a blurb of one of the many emails I received two weeks ago. It's the beginning of a new semester, and that means it's time for my ESL 097 students to choose their books for their Book Talk assignment.
ESL 097 is a transition course. It's literally their last chance to iron out their English and writing skills before moving on to English 101. My students are diverse. Some come from Korea, China, Vietnam, while others are from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Colombia, Mexico or elsewhere. I love teaching ESL!
There are several objectives for the particular course, but one of them is to "read actively and critically using a variety of comprehension strategies to facilitate understanding of texts."
This will be my third time doing this assignment. As with all assignments, I learn ways to improve it. Over the summer, I learned how to create free websites (like this one), so I decided to put all the instructions for the book talk there.
I created videos and links for reading strategies, etc. One of the things I noticed last time I did this assignment is that my students needed more support in reading their books. Not all of them are taking a reading class, even though they're supposed to.
There are still a few bugs to work out, but overall, I'm happy with the resources I've included in this book talk instructions website.
This morning, I bumped into a student who took my ESL 097 last semester. I asked her how things are going, and she said fine. She's now in English 107 (English 101 for ESL). "You know, Kassie," she told me, "reading that book last semester really helped my English!"
If you teach ESL or know anyone you teaches ESL (or developmental English), share this link with them. You are more than welcome to enjoy the instructions, videos and resources.
I wrote this for Upswing on August 15, 2016 as a guest blogger.
I thought tutoring online would be really different from face-to-face. I worried (to some degree) because I've nearly perfected my tutoring techniques. I've been tutoring for various college centers since 2005. I didn't want to start all over.
Although there are some things I had to get used to---mainly, the technology--- Upswing has made my tutoring online simple and as close to a face-to-face tutoring experience as possible. I have a camera, which means that tutees can always see me. Not only is this helpful for those moments when I explain a concept using my hands, but it gives that personal touch. They see my smiling face. I give them a thumbs-up when they answer my questions correctly or suggest a cool idea!
The whiteboard tools make it feel like I'm tutoring face-to-face. I can point with an arrow, circle, draw, highlight with lots of different colors, etc. I didn't know what I was doing the first time I used the whiteboard, but I just played around for a bit, and the more I used them in tutoring sessions, the more comfortable I felt.
In addition to these features, I've found that I can use the same (or similar) first four questions that I use in my face-to-face sessions. I tutor writing and ESL, so as you read through them, you might want to think how they can be used while tutoring in your discipline. I'm not including the obvious ones: Can you hear me okay? Can you see me? *thumbs-up*
Question 1: What are you working on today?
This question does two things. First, it helps me see how much they know about what they're supposed to do. Second, it subtly says that I won't do the work for them. Tutors don't do that. (Sorry!) But we do answer questions and point you in the right direction!
Question 2: Do you have your assignment instructions handy?
I always invite them to upload the instructions on the whiteboard or email them to me. This is because teachers often have special requirements (i.e MLA or APA). I often structure my hierarchy of concerns based on them. (i.e "You must have at least 4 credible sources; no Wikipedia!" etc.)
Question 3: When is your assignment due? And how much have you completed?
This helps me gauge how much help I can give and/or how many times I might be able to meet with the student. This is when I invite them to upload what they have. (Anything is better than nothing!) If they haven't started, and it's due tonight at midnight, I will talk to them, briefly, about time management.
Question 4: What kind of help do you feel like you need from me today?
I always take notes for this one (I do this in my face-to-face sessions, too!) because this is the most important question. One, it helps me see why they wanted tutoring in the first place, and I can ensure that I answer their concern before the end of the session. They'll probably get a bit of other help, too, but I'll answer questions about grammar if that's their biggest concern. Two, this instantly puts the focus on the student. This is their time, and they need to know it. Setting the agenda is super important!
Whether it's online or face-to-face, it's important to have a human connection with those you're tutoring. You don't have to use these exact first four questions, but you should be thinking about the first things you say and ask the tutee. First impressions are everything, so make sure it's a good one!
I get this question all the time. It happens like this:
You: "What's your job?"
Me: "I'm a teacher."
You: "So what subject do you teach?"
Me: "English... as a second language."
You: "What other languages do you speak?"
There it is. The most frequently asked question. It happens nearly every time I talk about being an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher.
I teach in English
First of all, it would be impossible to speak all the languages represented in my classroom. It's super diverse, 5-10 languages and cultures often. How can I possibly speak Arabic, Persian, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, German, and French all at the same time while I'm teaching? hmmm... Secondly, research has shown that it's actually better to teach a language, like English, without knowing your students' first language. (What?!) I know, weird. But it's true. I'll get to that more later on.
Some ESL teachers, yes, speak another language. I'm not saying that you shouldn't to be an ESL teacher. I just don't. (I tried Spanish, but it didn't stick.) I often wish I knew all the languages spoken in my classroom. (Then I could hear if they're cheating or what they really think about me as a teacher!)
My best friend speaks Mandarin Chinese as her first language, and English as her second. She's teaching in China right now and her Chinese has pros and cons for her teaching. My friend Mike learned English first and than Japanese. Another friend, Sarah, speaks English first and then Korean. Others of my teaching-buddies are like me and speak English only.
The essential requirement for teaching English, it seems, is knowing English. And lots of schooling. Lots! All of the people I mentioned have at least a Master's degree, which is what I have, too. So before you ask the question of whether or not native speakers are better teachers than those who are ESL, let me tell you that my best friend is a better ESL teacher than I could ever hope to be. She may not be blonde and blue-eyed like me, but she knows what she's doing! Just because you grew up learning a language doesn't mean you can teach it.
How we learn languages
There's a lot of research about how we learn languages! I'll try not to bore you with the science of linguistics. Instead, I'll invite you to think about how you learned your first language. Probably when you were a baby, yes? Chances are that your motivation for learning (which is key to learning a language, by the way!) was out of necessity. You wanted your caregiver to know you were hungry or that you wanted a toy. Crying and screaming did the trick for some things you wanted, but not everything. Eventually you had to learn words and sentences to get what you needed. Then, there's the social necessity. You needed to communicate with your friends, too. Generally speaking, this is a similar process for learning a second (or third language) effectively. There must be a necessity for it. (Whether that's feigned or not.)
Can adults learn languages?
There's the "Critical Period Hypothesis," yes, which I figured you'd want to know next. Lenneberg proposed the theory in 1967, basically saying that kids must be exposed to a second language before puberty (generally 13 years old). Otherwise, it would be nearly impossible for that person to learn a second language.
There is truth to this, to some degree, but not entirely. Otherwise, I'd be out of a job. All of my students are adults. I've come to learn that it is difficult for adults to learn a language but not because they're brains are fully formed and not as moldable as a child's. (That's part of the more modern version of the "Critical Period Hypothesis.") Simply stated, the necessity to learn a second language isn't as high for an adults because they know a first language that can usually get them by. (This is why I never fully learned Spanish, by the way.) Also, there are other responsibilities that kids don't have to think about which puts adults at a disadvantage: paying bills, choosing a place to live, finding a job, etc. These things could potentially give necessity for learning a second language, but more often than not, it takes adults away from practicing and perfecting a second language.
There's a lot more science and research behind all this. If you're really interested, you can earn a Linguistics degree or an MTESOL (Master's in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.) I did the latter. Quick advice from me if you want to learn a second language? Be super motivated, disciplined and don't be afraid to make mistakes; if possible, immerse yourself in the language!
How I teach ESL using only English
Here's where we finally get to the heart of your question: how I teach English without knowing any of my students' first language. There are a lot of theories and practices out there! I'm not going to pretend there's a one-fit-all solution. (By the way, Rosetta Stone is only effective for probably 1% of the human population. We're not robots!)
I have a teaching philosophy statement, which I framed and put above my office desk. It includes things like building a safe classroom environment, instilling student autonomy and giving timely and individualized feedback. In general, however, my teaching varies in two ways, whether I'm teaching beginners or I'm teaching intermediate/advanced speakers of English.
When I teach basic students (or beginners), my teaching is a game of charades:
When I teach intermediate or advanced speakers of English, I build motivation (the necessity factor, I mentioned), and create (for lack of better wording) a-close-to-real-world-experience:
Teaching ESL is a great profession. It's difficult, don't get me wrong! There are days when I want to pull my hair out. (That's true for any teaching job, though!) But I love it! I learn a lot from my students. They bring interesting and new perspectives, they're motivated and have worthwhile goals. I admire the sacrifices they're making, coming to a new country to have a better life for themselves and their families. English is a crazy mutt language, and I commend for their persistence and hard work!
So, yep. I'm an ESL teacher. I teach English... in English.
I wrote this for MyTownTutors on 6/13/2016 as a guest blogger.
My sister, a piano teacher, told me, "just because you play the piano doesn't mean you can accompany." I never understood that until I tried it. I got pretty good at playing songs like "The Entertainer" and "Fur Elise," so I decided to learn "A whole new world," from Aladdin. I thought it would be fun to have my friends sing while I play, but once they started singing along, I lost everything. I fumbled around looking for the right keys, forgot about timing and everything else. My sister was right--- it was a lot more challenging to accompany.
Tutoring can be like that. You feel like you know what you're doing, then you get a curve ball. For many of my colleagues, that curveball is tutoring ESL (English as a Second Language).
My intention for this post is not to tell you everything you need to know when tutoring or teaching ESL. That would be an insanely long post! Instead, I'm going to give the 3 biggest mistakes I've seen and tell you what I think should be done instead.
Keep in mind that I've only taught and tutored college students so, if you tutor in K-12, you may need to adapt the strategies I give you. In addition, I mainly tutor and teach writing, so if you are tutoring math or another subject, you'll need to adapt, too.
Mistake #1 Getting Louder
This might seem a little strange, but it's true. People who don't normally tutor ESL often get increasingly louder when working with ESL. (I'm guilty. I did it when I first started.)
The rule of thumb here is don't get louder, just talk slower. If the student looks confused and just isn't "getting it," don't get louder. They're not deaf! Instead, take a breath and talk slower. Don't slur your words. Also, think about the vocabulary you're using. Don't use jargon or big words that you know that student couldn't possibly know, let alone pronounce. If you happen to use one, stop and ask the student if he/she knows that word you used. If not, then give a simple explanation. Use the word in a sentence. That helps a lot!
Mistake #2 Taking Over
The motto in the first writing center I worked at was, "we help writers, not just writing." We had a strict "hands off" approach, which meant that we always gave the student full ownership of the revision. Yes, I'm here to help you. That's what tutors do. But I'm not here to do your homework while you sleep or surf the internet on your phone. Uh-uh! Not on my watch! (Taking-over a tutoring session, by the way, is called appropriation. There's tons of literature on it!)
Research (contact me via twitter for names and dates) has shown that tutors generally feel more inclined to take-over a session with ESL students. This is mostly due to the frequent grammatical errors ESL students have in their writing. It's exhaustive explaining how to fix every grammatical mistake. It's much easier to just grab a pen and mark up the paper for them.
Don't get me wrong! Some ESL students really need the corrections and can benefit from you telling them, "this is right, and this is wrong." They're still sorting out the language and want hard fast rules to hold on to. In general, however, it's best to (whenever possible), give ESL students ownership of the corrections made.
It's okay to correct a few mistakes--- give some examples--- but then let them try it on their own. Give options. "I see at least two ways to fix this," I might say. Then, I'd show them the two ways and let them choose which one they like best. I encourage them to look for other solutions and run them by me. This keeps them engaged and involved in the session and ultimately teaches them to work independently in the future, which is always my goal in tutoring. They won't always have access to a tutor. They need to learn to be independent thinkers.
Mistake #3 Over complicating
I've seen tutors attempting to correct and fix everything the student did wrong. And, of course, they don't want to do mistake #2 (taking over), so they give long, complicated explanations for everything they want corrected.
These sessions usually last an hour or more. In my opinion, that's far too long for a session! I find myself giving small tasks. "Alright, you do problems 5-10 on your own, and then I'll check them." Or, "Alright. You've got a topic sentence! Awesome! Try writing some supporting sentences, and I'll come back in 10 minutes or so and see what you come up with."
What to do if you find yourself long winded and giving overly complicated answers to questions, though? Prioritize. What are the most important things the student needs to know today? Don't try to teach them everything all at once. It's a good idea to invite the student to work with you multiple times a week. They need repetition and they need practice. Lots of it! It takes more than one day to do that.
Most students will be fine with you saying something like, "wanting to know the difference between the, a, and an is a great question! Here's the quick answer.... I can give you some handouts to help you practice at home. For now, though, let's focus on getting a topic sentence down on paper, since that's the goal of our session today..."
Bonus: Mistake #4 Belittling or under-simplifying
I don't expect anyone to do this on purpose. But I find that tutors sometimes assume that because the student's English is simple, he/she must have a simple mind. Not true! I've tutored extremely smart ESL students. One student I worked with was a famous composer in Vietnam. Another was a professional lawyer in her home country. It's okay to treat them like adults; in fact, it's important that you do! Don't, for example, baby-talk. Use regular inflection in your voice and never talk down to them. Talking slowly (as discussed in mistake #1), isn't a strategy because they're slow in the head. It's because it takes time for them to translate what you're saying.
And, by the way, don't assume you know exactly what it's like for them to learn a second language or live in a foreign country. Even if you have done those things, their experience is unique. Stay away from politics and religion as much as possible. If it comes up, be respectful and keep your opinions to yourself.
Don't say stuff like, "Oh, you're Muslim! Does it make you mad that your women are forced to wear those veils over their faces?!" (I've heard a tutor say something like that. /face palm/) Tutoring is not the time to talk about your views of their culture, whatever your view may be. This is particularly important, especially right now with the number of refugees increasing. Be sensitive to their situation and always be encouraging! English is a crazy language. I always commend them for their courage and persistence in learning the language.
Just in closing, I'd like to suggest two books that helped me most when I first started tutoring, and I refer to them often even as a seasoned tutor:
Tutoring ESL is my favorite! It's why I went back to school and earned a Master's in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (MTESOL). Now I teach ESL exclusively. They're motivated, fun, and hard working!
I'm new to bloglovin. I just learned about it today, actually. From my understanding, it's a way to follow your favorite blogs. I hope to update this blog at least once a month (maybe more, maybe less) depending on grading and teaching load, etc.
If you use bloglovin', please follow me. I'll try to follow you back! Have a great day!
So... why and when do students plagiarize? This is where I will talk a bit more personally. First of all, each case is unique and should be treated as such. As I discuss in another blog post, it's best to talk to students who plagiarize one-on-one.
Why do they plagiarize?
I have been able to clump all my cases of plagiarism into one of three reasons: 1) they're stressed and busy; 2) they're inexperienced and/or 3) they're not at course level. Oftentimes, students have a combination of these factors.
1. Stressed and Busy
Students who plagiarize always have a story. They are taking far too many classes, working a full time job, have to provide for a large family... The list goes on! These aren't justified excuses for them to plagiarize, of course, but I always listen to their story. It's important to remember that they're human beings with other ambitions and priorities, just like anyone else.
Not everyone is crazy about gerunds and past participles like I am. Students want to get this essay over and done with as quickly as possible so they can do the things they want (or need) to do. The bottom line is, these students believe that plagiarizing will save them time, will make it easier and faster, which, we all know, is not necessarily true. I wish students really understood the time and energy it takes to plagiarize effectively. You know, in a way that would make it impossible for teachers to detect. It's so much faster to write the damn paper!
When it comes to working with ESL, which is what I do, the way I approach and discuss plagiarism must be handled with care and caution. The idea of "stealing words" is often a brand-new idea to them. In China, for example, it's better to, in general, "blend with the crowd," so the less you use your own words, the better. This causes a lot of Chinese to naturally use "others" words, and they never think to give credit or reference where they got their ideas.
If you think about it, the concept of "owning" words is strange, so you can't blame them for not understanding the need to cite where they got information. Talking with these students often involves a teaching lesson on having original thought and being okay with saying things less-perfect than someone else. In fact, this gives them a distinct voice that teachers treasure. I'd much rather hear an original thought peppered with grammatical errors than an overly sophisticated sentence I know my student didn't write.
Inexperienced can also include things like culture-shock, or being new to college life. My conversations often include a discussion on time management and expectations of college professors. I provide resources and encourage them to talk to counselors and tutors who can help them adjust to their new way of life.
3. Not at course level
In order to take the classes I teach, which are advanced writing courses for ESL, they must take a placement test or pass the class just below with a C or higher. Our placement test isn't perfect. (Whose is?) Students are misplaced in my class all the time. I often give a little diagnostic near the beginning of the semester. I usually know, then, who my weaker students are, and I give them additional one-on-one help whenever possible. Every semester, though, one of these "weaker" students plagiarizes.
Their motivation is mostly out of embarrassment or fear. They usually didn't understand the assignment instructions. Even if they do understand, they don't have the skills necessary to complete the task, and they are simply embarrassed to ask for help. They fear that if they ask for help or let-on that they're English skills are lower than the other students, they'll be sent to another class or have to start over on the ESL ladder, which they can't afford or don't want to do because they'll bring shame to their family.
I try to be extra patient with these students because their self esteem is usually pretty low. When I meet with them to talk about their plagiarized papers, most are ashamed and confess before I even get the chance to ask them why they think they earned a low score on their paper. Some, however, are shocked that they're not allowed to copy and paste (or "borrow" as they like to call it) whatever they want because it's what they've always done. It's how they got into my class in the first place.
When do they plagiarize?
There are probably a plethora of other reasons why students plagiarize, but I've found that they always boil down to one or more of the three listed above. Now, to answer when they plagiarize, it's usually during the early stages of writing, during the brainstorming or prewriting stages.
As research has shown (you can get a full list of my references on the last slide of my powerpoint), teachers need to intervene throughout the writing process to ensure students understand what's expected of them and they aren't trying to "cut-corners" via plagiarism.
Writing takes time, and I try my best to stress this to my students, though they never fully believe me until they've completed their first essay. I think with this day and age, it's especially tempting to just google something when you're feeling stuck. I tell my students that brainstorming involves the brain. It doesn't involve a translator or google.
Plagairism, as mentioned, can be a touchy topic, but it's something that needs to be addressed in more than just a syllabus or policy waved at students the first day of class. My goal as an ESL writing instructor is to help my students feel confident with the writing process and English essay so they can write independent and unique thoughts. "It's a lot of work," I tell them, "but nothing is more satisfying!"