Reflection on Recent Tutoring Sessions
My last two tutoring sessions with Eliana have focused primarily on vocabulary building and correcting grammatical problems caused by L1 interference. On the vocabulary front, we have journeyed from advanced phrasal verbs (e.g., leaf through, fade away) to idiomatic expressions (e.g., a grain of truth, for my taste, to my liking) while shoring up lacunae in my advanced student's vocabulary (e.g., slight, core, and the much less common welt, which happened to come up during Eliana's free production). We have struggled with some of the most common grammatical difficulties experienced by English language learners who are native speakers of Spanish and Portuguese, including have/be and in/on confusion (also sticking points for many students, regardless of their native language) and a persistent omission of it, both as an impersonal subject (*Is a book instead of It's a book) and as a mandatory object of verbs that are only transitive in English (e.g., non-auxiliary have, take, put) but both transitive and intransitive in Portuguese (*I put in the computer instead of I put it in the computer; *Yes, I have instead of Yes, I have it, when have is being used as an action verb and not as an auxiliary verb). Some portion of each lesson so far has been devoted to Eliana's difficulties with it, but it is clear that this aspect of her interlanguage is long fossilized and so while we will continue to work on this point during our tutoring sessions, I am realistic in my expectations about our prospects of completely resolving this systemic error and I will take care not to frustrate the student by overreaching on this point.
Building Awareness of Pedagogical Discourse
I learned a lot from listening to the recording of this week's tutoring session. I know that I have a tendency to dominate conversations, so I always try to be conscious of my teacher talking time. Eliana has already reached an advanced level of proficiency in English and is learning English in an ESL context in an area where English is spoken by a substantial portion of the population, so access to grammatical input is not an issue. Consequently, unlike for students in an EFL setting in which the instructor may be the main (or only) source of grammatical input, Eliana does not need me as primary source of input, but rather as an expert to facilitate her improvement in the language. I was therefore pleased to find that my teacher talking time was limited to perhaps one third of the total session when I played back the recording. My speaking rate was also normal (not intentionally slow), which I believe is appropriate for advanced learners. However, I was disappointed to hear myself interrupting my tutee several times, denying her the opportunity for self-correction on a number of occasions. I was also disappointed with the limited amount of positive reinforcement that I provided. I will be sure to pay much more attention to these issues during our future tutoring sessions.
Most of my questions were referential and served the discursive purpose of keeping the conversation going when my student's speech became halted, although I did use a few display questions to elicit specific vocabulary or grammatical structures. For example, after hearing my student make the common error of pluralizing noun in the number + noun compound adjective construction (as in ten-dollar bill, three-car garage), I later asked the question "How long is this class?" hoping to elicit the construction. When the student replied, *Is a 45-minutes long class, we had the opportunity to address both errors (omission of the subject it and the incorrect plural form). I corrected Eliana somewhat frequently during the tutoring sessions (which I believe is necessary and appropriate given that one of the primary goals of our sessions is to improve her accuracy), usually by eliciting the erroneous lexical item or grammatical structure in the form of a question in order to draw her attention to the incorrect form. This strategy was successful for most of the fossilized errors of which the student was already aware, but for those errors of which she was not aware (as was the case for the number + noun construction described above), explicit correction and explanation were required.
Instructor Comment: I once did a grammar project with a very high level ELL informant - he continually omitted the referential IT. Amazing! His L1 was Urdu. I hope you found the recording more helpful than painful. Nice post.