While I certainly enjoy all aspects of tutoring, I have to admit that I have found working with students in remedial classes to be the most rewarding. Certainly students in collegiate level English can benefit from sentence level editing as well, but it has been my experience that remedial students are a bit more “interested” in the process. More “advanced” writers often seem frustrated to find themselves  struggling with mechanics of any sort. Perhaps this is because for the remedial students, often the assignments themselves are less complex. There are generally no sources to incorporate and no in-depth analyses or arguments to present; they are designed to further develop basic writing skills at sentence level – and the students know it.

When I read this week’s prompt, I thought “Oh my! I don’t have any real strategies – I just conduct each session individually! But, the more I reflected on my past few months in the Writing Center, I realized that I do – especially for remedial and ESL students. After introductions and getting seated, I begin the session with those students something like this:

“So, what do you have going on today?” With that, the student usually places their paper on the table and explains, in their words, what the assignment is. Then, my “strategy” (that I never realized I had until this prompt) is put into play.

  • I scan the paper while student is locating their assignment sheet (or getting in that one last text!) and quickly assess the writer’s needs.
  • We then read through the assignment requirements together and discuss the student’s feelings about the assignment.

“So, Mr. Shakespeare, do you feel you understand it [assignment] clearly?”

“Yes. I’m feeling pretty sure about it. I think I get it.”

“Good. So you feel confident about the idea of the paper. I see from your scheduling report you’re just concerned about some grammar issues, right?”

“Yea. I know what I wanted to say, but I just need some help.”

Having scanned the paper, I am usually already aware of at least one repeated error pattern.Doing these two things first enables me to best “direct” the session.

  • Next, I have the student read at least the first few paragraphs aloud

Here, if the student fails to notice their errors, I ask them if I could read it to them. Nine times out ten, they then notice them.

  • Then, together, we focus on strengthening problem areas

 While this is obviously not a highly detailed teaching “strategy, I have found it to be extremely effective in facilitating remedial instruction in a non-threatening tone. It’s very important to me that students know that I genuinely care about “what they have goin’ on today”.