How Dhruv turned his worst subject into his best

Written by: Maggie Shui

How Dhruv turned his worst subject into his best

Dhruv used to dream of the day he could quit taking English as a subject at school.

English was a hard nut to crack. Dhruv says, “I was working relatively hard, but I was just lost on what to do.” He didn’t have a clear pathway towards getting the higher marks he wanted. With maths and the sciences, he knew that doing practice questions was an effective way to study and get good results. With English, it was a mystery.

In Year 10, Dhruv received his Term 1 grades - somewhere in the 60s - and his teacher’s comments. His teacher told him he needed to express his ideas more in his essays, and link his points to a thesis argument. “But I just didn’t know how to do that. I thought I just couldn’t do well in English, that I’m just dumb in this subject.”

Dhruv sought tutoring so someone could help him make sense of it all. That’s how he met his English tutor of two years and counting, Kahn. While the list of things they worked through together is extensive, there are a few key things that Dhruv found especially helpful...

Writing paragraphs at every lesson

“Kahn made me write a sample essay paragraph at every lesson.” As you can tell from Dhruv’s wording choice, this was something he did begrudgingly at first. However, he soon came to see how it helped him overcome his biggest struggle in English: not knowing what to work on.

Kahn assigned these tasks so Dhruv was able to have lots of writing practice to improve his skills. It also gave Dhruv lots of opportunities to get feedback on his writing. “The more opportunities he has to receive feedback,” Kahn says, “the more he has an understanding of what he needs to work on.”

After each writing session, Dhruv and Kahn would dissect together what he wrote. “Kahn would say, ‘this part is good; this part not so good.' This way we could identify my strengths and weaknesses.” Dhruv’s key struggle with English was that he was lost on what to do. By identifying his specific weak spots, he knew what he needed to work on.

Tackling the ‘personal response’

One component of an English essay is the personal response. This is where students analyse a text with reference to their own worldview and the author’s intent. Students reach conclusions on what the text conveys, and how those messages relate to themselves or society at large. For lots of students, Dhruv included, it’s a tricky concept to get down.

To grasp a tricky concept, often you just need someone to explain it to you in a way that fits the way you think. Kahn explained personal responses to Dhruv this way: you can divide a personal response into two sections - the author’s intent and the reader’s response. This approach provided a formula of sorts for writing personal responses, which appealed to Dhruv who is very adept in the sciences and maths.

Seeing evidence of improvement

At school, Dhruv was consistently getting grades that ranged in the 60s. When you only have grades as a marker of your progress, it can be disheartening to see them stay the same even though you’re putting in effort to improve.

As his tutor, Kahn could clearly see Dhruv’s skills in English were improving. However, Dhruv needed a way to see for himself that he was getting better. Being a former student of the same school Dhruv attends, Kahn had first-hand knowledge of how the teachers tended to mark more harshly to prepare students for their exams. Kahn reminded Dhruv of this so he wouldn’t let his grades impact his confidence too much.

Kahn would also show Dhruv a paragraph he wrote a month ago and compare it to one he just wrote that lesson. He’d identify all the clear ways his writing improved after just a month. Kahn says one of the biggest improvements he has seen in Dhruv is his work ethic. As Dhruv started to realise he was getting better and that his efforts to practice his writing was working, Dhruv was motivated to keep working.

The result

Dhruv attained an A* in IGCSE English. This year, in 2019, he has been streamed into the top English class at his school.

“I never expected be here,” says Dhruv, who previously thought he was “just dumb in this subject” and there was no hope for him. “I never thought I would get an A* in English. I thought it would always be my lowest subject.” He gives credit to his tutor and mentor Kahn, and says, “there’s no way I could’ve done that without him.”

And how does Kahn feel about his student’s results? “Bitterly disappointed. I was expecting 100%.”

Just kidding! For Kahn, this result was a culmination of all the hard work he’d watched Dhruv do in the past two years. “I’m proud that not only had Dhruv achieved a really high grade, but he’d achieved it in something he’d said was his worst subject. He’s come really far.”

Going into 2019, Dhruv is more confident than in previous years. He feels more competent in tackling essay questions. “Before, I would feel like, ‘huh, what does this say?’ Now, when I encounter an essay question, I understand what it’s asking and what my first step is.”

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