|English Language Teaching On-Line|
Below are the results of a survey conducted of my students at Centenary College during the final two weeks of the Spring, 1999 semester. The results are reported as quantities, as averages of all responses received, or as summaries of student comments; in each case, I have chosen the method of reporting which I believe most appropriate to the question under discussion.
Although this survey may appear to be a Centenary College form, it was in fact created by me primarily for the purpose of this study. Of course, the results of this survey will also be used to assist me in reflecting on my activities as a tutor and a professor, in an effort to determine any ways in which I might improve the service that I provide to my students.
There were essentially two bases upon which these questions were framed: First, those areas in which I have observed the greatest student need and which I consciously address when engaged in tutoring international students; and, second, those areas which I suspect may be of import to the international students with whom I come into contact.
Different types of questions were employed (yes/no, scaling/rating, multiple choice, short answer, and commentary) in order to allow students of all levels - my students range from beginner to high intermediate - to express their feelings regarding the quality of the services they receive. Also, based on student responses to the variety of question formats, I have been able to draw conclusions as to those types of questions which continue to give students difficulty.
The sample group consisted of three female Japanese, one male Japanese, two female Koreans, one male Korean, one female Chinese, and one female Russian. Students ranged in age from 19 - 37, the mean student age being 23. First- through fourth-year students were represented in the group, as well as a variety of academic majors.
The survey was distributed by me directly to each student. Upon delivery, I explained: the origin of the survey - that it was not a Centenary College form; the purpose of the survey - that it would be used in fulfillment of a graduate school assignment and included in the portfolio which I would present to my professor; and the scope of the survey - that their answers should specifically reflect my performance as their tutor, not the performance of any other tutor in the department or the quality of the department as a whole.
Students were instructed not to write their names on the survey and, in order to insure anonymity, to return the survey to me in one of two ways: either by placing the completed survey under the blotter on the desk in my office prior to six o'clock p.m. (the hour at which I begin work), or through campus mail.
The Results (numerals in parentheses indicate number of students who selected that response):
Centenary College Department of International Studies Office of Tutorial Services Student Survey -- 1998/1999 To: All students who attended regularly scheduled tutoring appointments with Professor Tambini during the 1998/1999 school year. From: Professor Rob Tambini Purpose: The results of this survey will be used to determine the strengths and weaknesses of Centenary College's tutoring program, and to identify ways in which the program can be improved. 1) Do you feel that the tutoring which you received during the 1998/1999 school year was helpful to you? (If "No," skip to Question 4.) Yes (9) No (0) 2) In which areas was tutoring most helpful to you? (Circle all that apply.) Reading (1) Writing (6) Grammar (7) Vocabulary (4) Conversation (7) Culture (3) Personal (5) 3) In which areas was tutoring least helpful to you? (Circle all that apply.) Reading (3) Writing (1) Grammar (1) Vocabulary (1) Conversation (0) Culture (0) Personal (0) 4) Please indicate whether you agree or disagree with the following statements using a scale of 1 - 5 (1 = Strongly Agree, 2 = Agree, 3 = Indifferent, 4 = Disagree, 5 = Strongly Disagree): 1.5 Tutoring provided me with background information which helped me understand material discussed in class. 1.5 I enjoyed the one-on-one interaction with my tutor and felt comfortable speaking with him. 1.5 My tutor answered my questions clearly and completely in a way that was easy for me to understand. 1.7 Tutoring appointments were available at times convenient to my schedule and were promptly kept. 1.7 My tutor seemed to be genuinely interested in my progress as a student and my welfare as a human being. 5) Was you tutor sensitive in dealing with cultural issues? Yes (9) No (0) 6) Was your tutor helpful in explaining aspects of American culture that seemed strange or confusing to you? Yes (8) No (1) 7) What is one thing your tutor could have done to increase his helpfulness to you? More examples (1) More grammar (1) More time (1) Speak slowly (1) Tutor helped understanding through correcting essays and explaining lectures (1) Tutor helpful because he understands Japanese (2) 8) If you were a tutor, what one thing would you do differently than the tutor who assisted you during the 1998/1999 school year? More reading and pronunciation (1) Not be so kind (1) Provide more time for tutoring (1) Wakarimasen (Don't have answer to question) (1) 9) If you were the Director of Tutorial Services, what one change would you make next year to improve the tutoring program? Couldn't be better (1) More conversation (1) More Privacy (1) More time (6) More tutors (2) 10) Additional Comments: Appreciate tutor's efforts to understand students': - questions (1) - culture (1) - personalities (1) Thank you (5) Thankful to tutor for giving extra time outside scheduled hours (1) Tutor was good for international students (1)
Interpreting the results:
Clearly, students feel that their tutor is helpful to them and that he provides a valuable service which figures prominently into their academic success. However, it is equally clear, based on the responses to the above questions, that there are certain types of questions which provide a source of confusion for students.
Students appear to have understood Question 1 without difficulty, it being yes/no in format, specific, and direct in the information requested. Questions 2 and 3, on the other hand, require students to have a firm grasp of "most" and "least" as relative concepts, and seem to have been problematic for some students. Because a number of surveys (3) were returned with Question 3 blank, it seems apparent that these students understood the phrases "most helpful" and "least helpful" to be analogous to the absolute concepts of "good" and "bad." Given this interpretation, it is not surprising that students who have previously received their education in cultures which discourage the criticism of authority figures would choose to remain silent.
The responses to Questions 2 and 3 which were returned indicate that students found tutoring helpful in a number of areas: a significant number of students felt that tutoring had aided them in improving their grammar (7), conversation (7), and writing (6) skills; greater than 50% of students (5) believed that the counseling they received from their tutor was of assistance to them; only a few students, however, saw tutoring as helpful in the areas of culture (3) and reading (1). Taken together with the number of students who felt that tutoring was least helpful in improving their reading (3), this number becomes significant - The implication for the tutor being that more time must be directed toward assisting students in the development and improvement of their reading skills.
Question 4 required students to rate their level of agreement with statements regarding the quality of the tutorial services they had received. Responses to this question were well within my expectations, as the questions were framed in such a way that I believed students would rate each item either a "1" or a "2." The selection of the 1 - 5 scale ("1" being best) was a deliberately chosen device, as the "Teacher Evaluation Form" which Centenary students fill out in each of their classes during the fall and spring semesters uses a similar system. There is, however, one fundamental difference between the system used in my survey and that of the "Teacher Evaluation Form": whereas in the Centenary form the choice of "1" indicates student dissatisfaction, my survey inverts the scale and uses "1" to show that a student believes he is being served well. This difference allows me to determine whether or not students have read and understood the directions which have been provided to them, or if they are employing their prior knowledge of the Centenary form in the completion this survey.
Interestingly, only one student appears to have used the Centenary scale in completing this survey. I make this assumption because, while the rest of the responses contained in the survey in question are uniformly positive, the student has given a rating of "5" to every element of Question 4. There are three possible reasons for this: a) the student did not read the directions, but rather simply used the Centenary scale; b) the student read and misunderstood the directions; and c) the student read the directions but had difficulty understanding them, and therefore fell back on his prior knowledge of the Centenary scale. In each of these cases, it is apparent that the Centenary rating system has become a part of the student's schema, and the student is acting based on his earlier experience. Because I have experience identifying the motivations and misunderstandings which lead to my students most common errors, I believe that "c" is the most likely reason for this student making the selections that he did - The implication for the tutor being that students must be taught the importance of reading and understanding directions before they complete work, and that students need to be made aware that although two items may appear similar, in fact the manner of completion may be different.
Questions 5 and 6 both deal with culture - Question 5 with the tutor's sensitivity to students' cultures and cultural concerns, and Question 6 with the students' experience of American culture. Again, these were yes/no questions, and students did not seem to have any difficulty understanding or answering them. Each of these questions received a significant number of positive responses (Question 5 - 9, Question 6 - 8), only one "no" having been recorded (in Question 6). These results indicate that students require assistance in dealing with cultural issues, especially when trying to understand aspects of American culture which are unfamiliar to them - The implication for the tutor being that he should continue his present activities insofar as his interactions with students regarding culture is concerned.
The variety of responses to Question 7 indicate two student interpretations. Of the students who answered this question (8), 37.5% understood and responded to the question as intended; however, 62.5% interpreted the question to be, "What is one thing the tutor did which increased his helpfulness to you?" It is apparent that the use of the phrase "could have been" was problematic for lower level students, who were able to determine that the "time" of the question was in the past, but whose L2 ability precluded an understanding beyond the simple past tense - The implication for the tutor being that simple verb tenses and sentence structures should be employed when creating questions which are intended for use across varying L2 proficiency levels.
Additionally, in their responses to Question 7, students make suggestions as to those behaviors which, when exhibited by the tutor, assist in the facilitation of their understanding. Perhaps most interesting is the comment, made by two students, that the tutor was helpful to them because he understood Japanese (the students' L1). This declaration on the part of the students carries a weighty implication of its own: When students are aware that their tutor has made efforts to understand their culture and language, the students' affective filters are lowered and greater efficiency of information transfer is facilitated. This does not mean that all tutors should learn their students' L1; it does indicate, however, that tutors must be constantly on the lookout for ways to reduce their students' affective filters, and cognizant of any actions or activities on their part which might serve to cause anxiety or discomfort in students.
Questions 8 and 9 are both written in the if/what format and ask students to think about the services which they received during the fall and spring semesters, and to identify any changes they would make to improve the delivery of those services, were they in a position to do so. These questions serve to identify students' willingness and ability to understand and answer hypothetical questions. Five students responded to Questions 8 and 9; one student to Question 8 only; two students to Question 9 only; and one student did not respond to either question. Only one response (to Question 8, by a student who had answered both questions) seems to indicate a misunderstanding on the part of the student, the remainder of the responses being appropriate to the hypothetical as presented. The fact that some students chose to answer only one of these questions reveals that, when students possess a clear understanding, they feel an increased sense of security in making decisions about the questions which they will answer and the shape that their responses will take - The implication for the tutor being that when requesting responses from students, questions should be framed in a manner appropriate to students' L2 levels and employ only those rhetorical devices of which students already have a command.
Six of the nine students surveyed responded with "additional comments." Without exception, these consisted of expressions of thanks for the opportunity to receive tutoring and for the efforts of the tutor himself. The implication to be drawn from this is that students who take advantage of the services which are currently available to them find the assistance to be an integral part of their academic success. Toward this end, and in recognition of the fact that 100% of respondents cited the need for additional time for tutoring, it seems plain that one-on-one personal interaction is one of the most effective tools which might be employed in the education of L2 students. This type of contact allows students to become comfortable in speaking and dealing with a native-speaker of their target language, thereby lowering the student's affective filter (as discussed above) and providing a model which students can emulate. Also, in the same way tutors assist other (L1) students, the direction and assistance given by a tutor can be of great value in helping L2 students to develop and improve their study skills.
Although the sample size of this survey was very small (only nine students), I believe that the results reported here possess statistical validity as the above responses are consistent with the research to which I have been exposed through my graduate and independent studies. Were this survey to be repeated with a larger sample group, I predict that the outcome would be essentially the same, or at least that any differences would be statistically insignificant.
Implications are discussed above in the context of the questions to which they relate; however, certain general conclusions may also be drawn from the results of this survey:
May 10, 1999