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!"
I have a large stack of essays to grade, so I stock up on snacks and beverages and lock myself in my office. I read one essay after the other and provide detailed, encouraging feedback for each student. Suddenly, I'm reading an essay that shifts in tone, vocabulary, and voice. I know the student didn't write it. My stomach churns. I want to throw up. What should I do?
Why did the student plagiarize? Why-oh-why? Now, how am I supposed to stay true to institution regulations regarding plagiarism while staying positive and encouraging to students who may be new to the idea of "stealing words"?
What is Plagiarism?
There are several definitions. The one I chose to use in my presentation comes from Murdoch University in Dubai. I chose them because they have an informative video about the potential consequences of plagiarism. It's an intense video, so I've only showed it to my students once, but it brought up a lot of great discussion questions and really dives into why students might choose to plagiarize and why it's wrong to do it.
Murdoch University states that plagiarism is "the unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one's own original work." When I ask my students what plagiarism is, they yell, "it's cheating!" That about sums it up as well.