Your student shares that she wants to focus on grammar today, but after reading her piece, you observe that it needs a clearer thesis and better structure. Your student says she wants assistance in varying her vocabulary, but you’re struggling to understand what she’s trying to communicate in her piece. Overall, your student is looking to polish her wording when she needs to go back to the beginning and work on the basics. Sound familiar?
What do you do?
The secret lies in how you begin the session. First, the most important thing is to acknowledge what your student wants to work on. Make sure the student feels heard, recognized, and understood. There are several ways you can accomplish this:
- Jot down what the student says she wants to focus on
- Repeat what the student expresses interest in improving
- State that you will make sure to address those areas
“Okay, I hear that you want to talk about grammar and vocabulary. Let me write that down, and I’ll be sure to keep that in mind as we read through your paper.”
Do this immediately to put your student’s mind at ease; once she knows you’ve heard her and she has your confirmation that you’ll address her concerns, she’ll feel much better. Because you wrote down what she said, she knows that you won’t forget. She’s confident that you’re aware of her needs, and can now relax and listen to all of the feedback you provide. Now, she’ll be open to discussing other aspects of her paper.
Next, jump into tutoring as you normally would. Draw the student’s attention to her thesis statement, the paper’s structure, etc. Tackle those fundamental concerns. Do your thing!
As you’re working on these areas, briefly incorporate what your student wanted to work on. Mention that her current thesis statement needs to be clearer in terms of content, but that you also noticed she conjugated one of the verbs wrong and help her understand the mistake. Work on clarifying confusing sentences and also bring up a few opportunities that you see for her to spice up her vocabulary. Focus the bulk of your energy on improving her paper’s thesis/structure, but also touch on the areas that your student requested.
Save five minutes at the end of the session to briefly discuss the concerns your student expressed at the beginning of the session. First, tell your student what common specific issues you saw with regard to the concerns she brought in. Ask her to jot these issues down so that she can reference them later.
“I noticed you often wrote in the present tense when you were discussing something that had already happened in the past.”
“I saw you use the word ‘great’ a lot in your writing and I think there are more descriptive words you could choose.”
Then, provide your student with a specific strategy to overcome this issue. Ask her to write the strategy down next to the issue.
“When you go home, highlight each verb in your essay and then read your paper out loud so you can hear the sequence of events. Stop after each sentence to check that the verbs are conjugated properly for the chronological order you wish to convey.”
“Use a thesaurus to replace each ‘great’ with another positive adjective that is more descriptive and specific to what you’re communicating.”
If time allows, you can show her quickly how to apply this strategy. For example, fix one improperly conjugated verb together or browse a thesaurus together to find a new word.
Now, your student has a list of problems and solutions that empower her to better her piece with respect to the areas she felt needed improvement.
Then, close your session with a statement like this:
“Well, it looks like we touched on grammar and vocabulary, which you expressed a desire to address. We also talked about how to improve your thesis statement and organize your paper in a clearer way. I’d work on those things first, and then you can use the strategies we discussed to remedy any grammar mistakes and vary your vocabulary.
Most importantly, make sure to ask:
“Do you have any other questions for me? Do you feel clear about the issues you came in with now?”
And make sure to listen to the answer. Hopefully, if you’ve followed the advice I’ve provided, your student should respond that she feels much better about these issues. Asking this question makes your student feel valued and shows that you care about teaching her.
Now, you’ve restated again what your student wanted to discuss; you acknowledged that you touched on those things; you mentioned the other things you focused on; you gave the student specific ways to address her concerns; and you asked the student how she feels now. As a result, she’s grateful not only that you gave her strategies for improving her grammar/vocabulary, but also that you brought other important issues to her attention. Overall, your student should feel respected and capable.
Never feel like you have to pick between appeasing your student and accomplishing your own agenda. Remember that you both have the same goal of improving her writing abilities and writing piece. You need to work together to get there, and your student needs to trust you to listen to her. That’s how you build a relationship and reach your goal.
Photo by Ming Jun Tan