Huw Davies, Kanda University of International Studies
Robert Stevenson, Kanda University of International Studies
Isra Wongsarnpigoon, Kanda University of International Studies
Davies, H., Stevenson, R., & Wongsarnpigoon, I. (2019). Shifting roles in continuous advising sessions. Relay Journal, 2(1), 69-72. https://doi.org/10.37237/relay/020110
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Introduction by Kie Yamamoto
It is common for learning advisors to receive a request such as conversation practice or simple linguistic support in our institution simply because learners find them accessible and friendly. Although this may not be the usual role of a learning advisor, it can be the beginning of a long-lasting reflective dialogue. Learning advisors are aware that the learners’ initial interest is not necessarily an opportunity for reflection on their learning process. Nevertheless, they also acknowledge the fact that learner readiness for reflection varies depending on the learner. Thus, while advisors appear to be “conversation partners” at first, they endeavor to create reflective dialogues by incorporating advising strategies in each session. As the learning trajectory that the learner follows is not always straightforward, keeping an open mind and engaging in each advising session is crucial. The following stories depict the importance of openness to learners’ needs and maintaining continuous advising sessions in order to generate transformational learning.
Every Conversation is an Advising Opportunity
My most memorable advising moment in the last year came from a student who I had been talking with regularly over the previous two years. She is majoring in a language other than English, and I felt she was using the advising service to get English speaking practice. She had been reserving me once a week and the conversations rarely strayed towards learning. In fact, my sessions with her had made me reflect on how long it is appropriate for advisors to build rapport before encouraging some kind of action.
Our conversation took place shortly before the summer break and after talking for around 20 minutes, the student suddenly and unexpectedly brought up a topic to do with language learning. She was worried that some of the English fluency she developed would disappear during six weeks in her hometown, far from the university and opportunities to use English.
Looking back, I can now see this was an optimum moment to introduce a tip from a successful language learner. However, at the time I was skeptical that the student would change her behavior, so before speaking I leaned back in my chair and spoke more slowly and quietly than I had been doing. I told her about other university students that I had worked with who recorded a spoken diary once or twice a week to maintain spoken fluency. The conversation then moved away from learning and, although I mentioned this tip again in a recap at the end of the session, I was unsure that the student would keep an audio diary during the vacation.
It was very much to my surprise shortly after the vacation the same student came to speak to me again and told me she was able to fully participate in her English classes that week because she had kept an audio diary over the summer. She was so excited she played extracts to me, then reflected on difficulties she had keeping the diary and what she did about it.
This moment helped me realize that continuing to give time to students is valuable even when language learning is not on the student’s agenda; an optimum moment to share advice can occur at any time. Next time such a moment presents itself, I will deliberately alter my body language and tone because I believe by doing this I helped to make the tip memorable for my student.
The Importance of Casual Advising
An advising session that sticks out for me from this past year began as a casual chat with a class exploring books in the SALC. I spent some time with several students to discuss what books they were looking at and what they were actually looking for. One student wanted to travel so we went to the Lonely Planet books. Another student enjoyed comics so we visited that section. They each had their own curiosities that made for good conversations. Class ended and off they went.
Several weeks later a student made a reservation to see me. I did not recognize the name and the purpose was simply listed as “other.” When the time came, I was happy to see it was a student I had spoken with during the class time. She wanted to continue the conversation and practice her English. Previously she had not had a conversation with a native speaker, and since I had spoken to her that one time in class, she thought this would be a good way to begin. Most of the dialogue was general conversation as that was what she knew she needed to improve her confidence. It became a bit of a balance between conversation for conversation practice and reflection for thinking how the conversation was affecting her learning. Reflection came in the form of asking how she thought the conversation went or by discussing and encouraging some recently learned vocabulary or grammar. Over time she has certainly improved. Since then she has made reservations with me several times for more conversations, and I have seen her out and about in the SALC with friends or even talking with a teacher.
Random chats can help more than I often realize, and students will remember them much longer than I will. It is something I hope to increase in the coming year.
When Meetings Nurture the Roots of Trust
One relatively recent session had quite an impact on me, not due to the use of any specific advising skill or some insight reached in the moment, but rather because of how it made me consider the relationships that I develop with my advisees.
This student would usually book me for conversation practice or to ask about colloquial vocabulary. I felt that he saw me more as a language resource, and whenever I did try to engage him in deeper reflection, he did not seem especially interested. Still, because he was not a frequent SALC user, and because I sensed that he did not often reach out to speak to new people, I was happy to meet him “just” for those purposes. It seemed to me that he felt comfortable speaking with me because of my background and our common interests. I went into this particular appointment fully expecting to discuss slang with him again, only to be surprised when he started reflecting on his mindset and negative habits. We had a long talk in which we both shared our experiences and thoughts. He expressed the feeling that being able to think about these issues was a sign of personal growth, a belief which I wholeheartedly agreed with. I could tell that he had been contemplating these matters for some time, and the fact that he trusted me to open up about these thoughts stuck with me.
This session showed me the significance of establishing trust and rapport with learners. Although I had previously had several meetings that did not necessarily focus deeply on the student’s learning, I realized that those sessions were not without value. In the process of developing a positive rapport with him, he grew comfortable and came to trust me enough that he could come to me later with topics that we might not have been able to broach previously. From this instance, I came to see the value in developing a connection with learners in such sessions that might seem to lack a deeper purpose or do not lead to definitive outcomes. In my advising from here on, what I learned will help me to be more proactive in maintaining connections with students and realize the part that any given meeting may play in building trust.
12 thoughts on “Shifting Roles in Continuous Advising Sessions”
Every Conversation Is an Advising Opportunity
First off, I want to say how I not only commend your patience, but I outright admire it. You saw an advisee for two years for what you believed to be mostly conversational English practice. Your patience and trust in the process was such that you only briefly wondered if it was wise or even appropriate to still be in the building trust and rapport stage. I mentioned ‘trust in the process’ because that what I believe you were doing just that —you trusted the process to work, even though that entailed you being a conversation partner for such a long period of time. I have to ask myself, would I have been that patient –two years— had I been in your shoes?
As an English native speaker and an advisor at a university in Turkey, I occasionally get advisees who come to me where I am initially unsure of their true purpose in being there. I’m sure a few have specifically come more for the conversational practice than anything else, despite what they tell me. I’ve always tried my best to steer such students towards practicing conversational English that, if nothing else, revolves around their learning issues. In this way, even the ones that didn’t initially really want advising help still end up receiving it and the sessions become mutually beneficial in that I actually feel I might be offering them help beyond just being a speaking buddy.
Or so I thought.
Reading your paper, as well as the other two related papers in this article, has given me food for thought so to speak. It seems that you were able to inspire a significant change in a student simply because of your remarkable patience and how you were always willing to speak with the student, despite your misgivings about the session’s true purposes. It also seems this student developed a profound sense of trust with you. I wonder if the student even started to think of you as a brother after two years.
I particularly like how you sat back in your chair and offered your suggestion (the diary) using slower, quieter words. That’s powerful. In my opinion, your delivery style really offset the important of the suggestion you were making. You also prefaced your suggestion by framing in a way that was particularly relevant to the student: This is what some of my other successful students have done. I feel that all of this really helped your suggestion to stand out to the student. It’s as if you were offering a technicolor comment in a black-and-white world. Therefore, I am not surprised the student chose to follow your advice later on. I am sure they kept mulling it over their mind long after your session.
I am curious about something. If you compare and contrast this student with the more typical type of students that I presume you get for advising, which type of student do you now feel is easier to develop a strong sense of rapport and trust with? Also, as a result of this refection and the new perspective that it brought to you, do you think you would ever reach a point in the future –with any advisee—where you were sure that an advisee was not going to move beyond the English-as-conversational-practice stage? Do you now think that the initial rapport and trust building stage can ever continue for too long of a period of time?
Thank you for sharing your story! It has given my much to consider in my own advising sessions.
Thank you for your comment. I’m glad it gave you a chance to reflect on your own practices.
I would like to say that my change in delivery style when making this suggestion was strategically planned or my training kicking in, but I honestly think it was because I felt I was wasting my time in saying what I said. However, it has made me realise that next time such an opportunity arises, this is a powerful technique and it will be a strategy I employ.
I agree with what you said about our many conversations developing the student’s trust in me as an advisor. From my point of view, it is also my duty to trust her. To trust that when she is ready she will talk to me about what is important to her. I’m not sure that this is necessary trust in the process, but more a belief in her agency – her right to set the tempo of our conversations; my primary role is as a listener.
You asked me to compare this student to a typical student… I honestly cannot describe what a typical student is – some (are conditioned to) act in a certain way, but often beneath the surface their purposes are different. If I can rephrase your question to ‘what prevents an advisor and student from building rapport?’ I would say it is usually down to a lack of willingness in the student to actually make changes – perhaps the student is talking to the advisor because they feel they ought to, or a lack of trust – I often feel that early on in an advisor-advisee relationship the student tests me to make sure I actually know about language learning. When I do a bit of teaching or coaching in the second or third advising session I have with a student I can be confident that this will be a successful advising relationship, it gives me a chance to explain my role, ‘I’ll show you this time, but in the future…’.
Regarding your other questions, if an advisee is unable to move beyond a conversation practice stage, I have to accept that. The mistake would be to push them into making reflections they weren’t ready for because, in all likelihood, that would be the end of our relationship. In such a relationship I would still ask reflective questions or make gentle suggestions but would understand if the advisee did not respond. I believe that if a student keeps coming back to see an advisor they must be getting something from it, even if it is not what the advisor hopes or expects. If they were not ready to reflect deeply after two, three or four years of speaking with me, I would trust that it is part of the process of them being able to do it at another time or place, with another person in the future.
All the best,
Thank you for responding to my comments. I agree 100% with your statement that your primary duty is to trust her. Furthermore, I agree that sometimes an advise may never move beyond a conversational practice stage. Perhaps they do not feel a pressing need to open up and reflect deeply because they have found an alternative way to address their issue or they reflected outside of their session with you? What I mean is, perhaps these advises were helped during the process more than we will ever realize. Perhaps advising did work for them, but in a non-traditional way and we, as advisers, will simply never know unless the advise chooses to inform us somehow.
Exactly. It would be foolish to think that the only catalyst to a student being able to reflect deeply and take control of her life is through talking to us advisors.
Also the proof of her development is a change within herself: the student I worked with here made a leap, and it is that rather than her telling me about it that is important.
The Importance of Casual Advising
As a native English speaker and advisor in Turkey, it has been my experience that students learning English in a non-English speaking country are often scared to speak to native speakers. Most eventually tell me that they were initially worried I would judge them since it’s my own language. A few have even told me they were worried they would accidentally offend me on the basis of their frequent pronunciation mistakes. In all cases, it was a friendly personality and a smiling face that encouraged them to try and it sounds like this was something you excelled at projecting in the SALC when the students first met you. Even the students that you never saw again were likely affected by your warmth and your willingness to help them. You didn’t just show them some books, you showed them that their assignments and their needs were important to you. You showed them that they were important as people and this is something that students often feel insecure about when speaking a foreign language.
In this way, you provided a lot of real-life advising in the form of confidence building and character building to all the students that you helped in the SASL situation you described. In short, without directly meaning to, you proved to them how powerful it was to believe in themselves and in their ability to trust themselves in an unusual situation: successfully interacting with a native speaker and actually enjoying themselves in the process.
Is it truly surprising that a student whom had had such an interaction with you and who wanted to work on her self-confidence came back to visit you? Your ability to establish a sense of rapport and trust with her started in the SALC, long before your first advising session. In fact, it’s possibly that rapport and trust that may have initially inspired her to seek you out for advising in the first place. That is quite a strength to have as an advisor.
You mention your sessions were a balance of conversational English and reflecting on how said English conversations were affecting her learning. How do you feel about that? Do you think this was a positive or a negative thing? (It’s not clear to me if you saw this balance in a positive or negative light.) As a native English speaker in a non-English speaking country, speaking for myself, I think our advising sessions will always contain a bit of what you described. Even if we are only speaking about learning-advising issues, practicing conversational English will always be a part of it. I think this can be extremely useful for building and grow self-confidence. It’s also useful for encouraging and practicing perspective shifts that can come from thinking in the target language. However, what’s important here is, what do you think about this?
You mentioned your take away was that even casual conversations can act as advising sessions and that this is something you hope to increase in the coming year. It seems to me that you are well on your way to accomplishing that goal! You have discovered a way to casually reach students even when you aren’t consciously advising them. Congratulations!
Thank you for your comments. It’s very informative when another advisor comments 🙂
You make many great points about the situation. Making the learner feel not just comfortable, but they and their work is important to us can be overlooked during casual conversation. On occasion I have been distracted with the other responsibilities that an advisor has and no focused enough on the student. Those responsibilities should be put on hold so proper attention can be given to the conversation, no matter the setting. They are the most important part of advising.
I believe the balance of conversation and reflection is a positive. Trying to dig through a conversation to find their motivation/anxieties/study habits can make a conversation feel forced and possibly unnatural. Language learners need that experience of conversation, and later parts of those conversations can be discussed again using a dialogue strategy. A student once had a conversation with me about dancing and her love of it. This later came up when she expressed anxiety over speaking in front of others. Discussing how she learned to dance in front of others was helpful in finding ways she could speak in front of others. By including the casual conversation, her reflection was much better.
Times like that are rare. Many times topics in casual conversation does not come up again, but it is certainly helpful for an inexperienced student to have casual conversations in a new language in ways I may never see. It is always something I encourage. If the student starts to ask questions or talks about anxiety, then they can lead the way to some deep reflection, but I try not to push it.
This new year is starting soon and I will be trying to create more opportunities for casual advising. Thank you for responding and helping me further reflect on advising.
When Meeting Nurture the Roots of Trust
First off, I truly enjoyed reading your reflection. Like Huw, you really excel at exercising patience in order to unconsciously nurture the best qualities in an advisee to emerge from within and grow. One of your great strengths as an advisor has to be your finely tuned instincts. You recognized your advisee’s innate sense of ‘fragility’. This student was rather shy and didn’t talk to many new people, yet you somehow felt that the student didn’t enjoy being this way and may have searching for a way to strengthen himself. Perhaps this is why you chose to continue to speak with him despite feeling like a ‘language resource’. Maybe you just thought you were just ‘being there for him’ at that time, but it’s wonderful that you now see you were doing so much more for him. That illustrates amazing growth as an advisor in my opinion.
I had an advisee who kept coming to me where I initially believed it was because we were both expats. At first, I too wondered if I was providing any measurable help by simply hearing him out. Like your student, he eventually started to make statements that indicated his developing awareness of learning-advising issues. I used to think it was because of all the challenging questions I would ask him that caused him to reflect on things he’d been avoiding. Now, after reading your paper, I wonder how much of that change was sparked simply by my listening to him and allowing him to vent. I wonder if the outcome would have been the same even if I had never asked a single challenging question.
You managed to foster a strong level of rapport and trust –so strong that they student felt safe enough to broach sensitive subjects with you. Is there no better gift to receive as an advisor? Your experience, like Huw’s, has highlighted the fact that some students take much, MUCH longer to get to a place where they feel safe enough to feel personally empowered enough to take action. You both offered compelling cases for why a strong sense of trust and rapport is instrumental for effecting such a positive change in an individual –even if it takes a long time for that change to become apparent.
I will be passing the link to this article to the Peer Advisors I am currently training. They just started officially advising and I can think of no better article to bring up during their first evaluation. Thank you very much for sharing your experience and the insight it brought to you. I immensely enjoyed reading the papers you, Huw, and Rob wrote. I have a lot to reflect on now, as both and advisor and a trainer.
Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments. I know that we both made the transition to advising around the same time, and as such, I am glad that you were able to draw some parallels from my reflection to your own experiences. It’s also gratifying to see that we are both discovering similar rewards as we develop as advisors.
I appreciate you recognizing my instincts, as it made me think about how I did pick up on something in my advisee. I wouldn’t necessarily label it as “fragility,” but rather, I intuited that that perhaps it was not easy for him to take risks. Because of this fact, I felt that just being able to come talk to me was important to him. At the same time (and without disclosing any revealing information) he did demonstrate in our conversations that he was trying to reach out and make changes for himself, although not necessarily through reflection. I can’t claim that at the time, I consciously noticed the potential for my advisee to open up if I continued meeting with him, but your comment made me realize the opportunity that our advising sessions presented for him.
I enjoyed reading about your experience as well, and it’s wonderful that you also had a comparable breakthrough moment with an advisee. We both discovered the value in aspects of our relationships with students that are not immediately perceivable. It’s interesting that in your case, you were more proactive than I was in encouraging the student to reflect. You wrote that now you believe that your rapport may actually have been the key. While I’m sure that your questioning was valuable, I think you’re right: Being there to listen to his “venting” must have been crucial in developing trust. Do you think you would you approach similar situations any differently from now on?
Thanks again for the opportunity to revisit this reflection and for giving me another angle from which to consider my practices and skills as an advisor. I hope we’re able to share more of our experiences like this in the future.
Every Conversation is an Advising Opportunity
I sincerely want to congratulate you on your patience and will. I admire the fact that you were seeing the same student for two years. That is simply amazing! I am an advisor in training and reading about your experience helped me understand a lot. First, I would have never thought that it is possible to continuously see one student for two years. That is partly because I work at a prep school and students mostly spend one year here. Secondly, it amazes me that you, as an advisor, continued to see that student for such a long time knowing that she is in there for speaking practices. I, at this stage of becoming an advisor, wouldn’t see that student is she would have told me that she simply wants to practice speaking. That I must admit. I would think that that’s not my duty as an advisor and that there are other students who maybe need more help from me, so I would give others the opportunity. But, reading about our experience changed my views on that matter. Now, I know that every conversation, even a simple chit-chat, is certainly an opportunity for advising – whether the student is aware that s/he needs it or not.
I would like to know what was it that made you stick with that particular student? Did you have a feeling that she might be needing your advising skills in the long run? How come you didn’t inform her in the first few meetings that those are not speaking practices, but advising sessions?
Again, I thank you for sharing your experience because it has made me realize to give more time to each student who comes to see me and see every conversation as an advising opportunity.
The Importance of Casual Advising
Thank you for sharing your experience. As an advisor in training, I have found it very useful to read and learn from it.
I find it inspiring how you are happy to see certain students in your sessions. That shows that you truly care about helping and making a change in someone’s life. Your experience is a great example of how a simple chit-chat can affect the improvement of some students. Generally, I wouldn’t think of it. I would imagine that my job as an advisor is in my office where I am there when a student needs me. But, I see that our actions and words can certainly lead students into our sessions by simply giving them a few minutes of our time. That is a valuable lesson to learn at this early stage of becoming an advisor I am at.
I would like to know at what point did the student mention wanting to work on her confidence? How long have you let her come in thinking that it’s for speaking practice before you managed to turn it into advising?
Thank you again and I look forward to reading more of your experience.
When Meetings Nurture the Roots of Trust
Dear Isra, thank you for sharing your experience. I couldn’t agree more about the importance of building rapport and gaining trust. If I put myself in students’ shoes, it would also take a lot of time and trust for me to trust a teacher. Mostly because of the professional distance I used to feel with my teachers. That alone would not make me comfortable to share anything too personal or shameful with teachers. Because of that, I will try to build a good rapport with my advisees and make them feel as comfortable with me as possible and I will also give my all to earn their trust.
What I find amazing is that you kept on seeing the student for purposes other than advising by simply knowing that it is still going to make a change in his life. That is very admirable. I don’t think I would have done the same – I wouldn’t give that many chances to a student who comes in to ‘use me’ to practice speaking. I wouldn’t have seen it as a fair and right way to have my advising sessions. That makes me wonder:
Would you have done the same if you and the student didn’t share the same interests and if he had been a frequent SALC user? In which cases would you inform the students that advising sessions are not speaking practices?
From you, I have learned to give help in another way, not strictly advising. Thank you for that!
Thank you for your comment. I will do my best to explain my advising context and this might help to clarify why I was meeting with this student on an almost weekly basis. I teach in the self-access centre at a four-year university (pretty much every student on campus is an undergraduate). Students are able to have contact with advisors in various ways, by taking classroom-based courses, for credit out-of-class modules, by coming to the centre and talking with us, or (as in this case) by making a one-to-one appointment with us. Some of our weekly schedule is open for students to reserve a 30-minute appointment. This particular student made appointments with me most weeks at the same time. That was her prerogative, and not my place to refuse to talk with her or any other student. Therefore the reason I spoke with her is because she wanted to speak with me – from that I could gather that she was gaining something which was useful to her and it was worth continuing.
During the two years – in every session I’m sure – I did ask reflective questions and use various advising techniques, I did steer conversations in the direction of learning. I was always in the same mindset. I would have also explained the purpose of advising to her. However, this student decided to talk about the things that she wanted to talk about.
In formulating this answer to you, I have been thinking about how plentiful casual conversation helped me to assist this student, and to offer a useful tip when this opportunity finally arose. Without going into detail, I knew a fair amount about her living situation, her relationships with other students on campus, and the classes she found more difficult. As a result, I was able to offer her focused and personalised encouragement when I saw her on campus to (hopefully) make her feel positive and to cement our mutual trust. Also when the time came to give a tip, I knew to suggest a spoken diary rather than a written one.
All the best,
Thank you for reading and responding to my reflection. I am finding these responses to be fun and helpful discussions.
I sometimes think too much like a teacher and not an advisor and rely on my office and appointments to do work, rather than bumping into students outside. Those random encounters mean a great deal more to them than to myself, so I must remind myself to give them my time. They can be bumps to their motivation and remove some anxiety, helping them in their education.
It was early in our conversation when I was trying to understand the reasons for her reservation, so it was rather quick. She said she was aware of her low confidence and to improve it wanted to have a conversation. So we talked about traveling in Japan, and towards the end I brought up confidence again and she said it felt better. During a later appointment we shared photos of traveling. It was simple, nice, and she was clearly speaking more at ease. When the new school year begins I will send a reminder and later discuss her confidence again.
I hope to hear some memorable advising moments from you soon and we can discuss more.
Thank you for your comment. I’m glad that it helped you to think about how you can help your students.
I like that you can switch perspectives and remember how it felt to be in the students’ position. You’re absolutely right that a student is going to be less likely to open up if they don’t feel a sense of trust or a personal connection with you. Even when I taught in classrooms, this has always been something that I try to establish with students. While in teaching, it was key in creating a warm, positive classroom environment with a group of students, in a one-to-one relationship, it’s even more vital. It’s a shame that your teachers seemed to create a sense of distance between you and them. Do you remember any teachers that you did have a trusting relationship with, and if so, do you remember any specific things they did to build that kind of rapport with you?
It might be giving a little too much credit to my intuitions to state that I knew that our meetings would have some impact on my student’s life. As I mentioned in another comment on this page, he was demonstrating that he was gradually trying to make changes, but I don’t think I consciously felt that these signs were the reason why I continued to meet with him. After the first couple of sessions, our meetings were not purely free conversation, and although he was using me as something of a language resource, I could see that he was thinking about his learning process.
In our SALC, there are times that we are booked purely for speaking practice, and each learning advisor has their own stance on those types of sessions. In my case, I try to elicit some reflection on the student’s speaking in these sessions, but I’ve come to realize through experience that these sessions are usually valuable opportunities to start a trusting relationship with students.
To answer your question, I definitely would have continued talking with the student even if we didn’t share the same interests—many of my advisees are interested in things that I have no idea about, and I always enjoy hearing about them (Whether he would have continued coming to see me if we didn’t share those interests is a another matter!) Similarly, if he was a frequent SALC user, I still would have been happy to talk to him, although I might have indirectly suggested that he could explore the other resources for him within our SALC. At the same time, a frequent SALC user might be more aware of the other opportunities we have for speaking practice.
I might not explicitly tell a student that advisors are not here to practice conversation, but I might steer a conversation toward reflection on their speaking. Some students respond well to that, and the ones that aren’t interested in reflection (for instance, if they’re purely just trying to complete a homework assignment) might choose another outlet for their speaking the next time.
Thanks for asking such an interesting question! It helped me think more about how I might approach different situations. I hope that you will continue to share your experiences and perspectives with us.