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Thursday, September 18, 2008

"Housekeeping!"

Part of the fulfillment for an internship at the BSU Writing Center is to spend time observing sessions at the center. I'm not really sure if this has helped or hurt my confidence as a future consultant...I enjoy being able to watch what goes on in the sessions and observe how the veteran consultants handle obstacles, exercise their tact, and find ways to get students thinking about how they can improve their work. Many times, the consultants will convey ideas to the students that I am already thinking about, or make suggestions to them that, in my mind, I have already decided should be suggested. However, there are times when I feel that I would have a difficult time doing what the consultants do, and it causes me to worry about my own abilities as a tutor.

One example of this was a session I shadowed on Wednesday. A student came to the writing center with a mostly-finished draft of a paper she'd written for her English class. This next part is going to make me sound fairly arrogant and judgmental, so I'd like to apologize in advance: I'm sorry. This paper was ghastly! The student had some really good thoughts and I knew that she KNEW what she wanted to say, but that it just wasn't being expressed in an organized, eloquent manner. Her ideas were scattered, sprinkled, and hodge-podged in small paragraphs with no elaboration on her statements, and no connection between the different subjects. Her sentences were difficult to understand and grammatically incorrect. In short, it looked like it was written by a 7th grade student (and that might be a tad generous).

I AM SO RUDE! I know this. Please, please have mercy on me. However, I really don't think any of us can deny feeling this way about another's work at some point in our academic careers.

As the student was reading her paper aloud to the veteran consultant, I began to have panicked thoughts: "How is she (the veteran consultant...let's call her "Jane") ever going to fix this!? Where would one even begin on something as messy as this?" This paper was a disaster, and it needed some serious literary housekeeping! It's like trying to clean up an utterly messy house; overwhelming to the point where one doesn't even know what to start with first. I watched the student as she struggled with reading the paper aloud: "It sounds so bad when you read it out loud..." she said. I could see the frustration on her face.

Jane was positive, calm, and organized in a situation that would have left me dumbfounded. She asked the perfect questions, made the perfect suggestions, and, rather than being the housekeeper herself, Jane handed the student the mop. By the end of the session, the student's discomfort had turned to relative ease, and her sad, frustrated face had morphed into a smiling one. She felt more confident, had begun to form a real sense of direction with her work, and she was ready to go home and make her own changes to improve the paper.

Does this kind of educational genius come naturally, or is it the result of experience in tutoring? I have always felt confident as a writer, but I am just now starting to realize that being a good writer and being a good writing tutor require different abilities and strengths. I could have written that girl's paper backwards, forwards, and inside-out! However, that's not what she came to the Writing Center for. When it came to HELPING HER write her paper, I struggled.

My fellow 303 students, have any of you felt this way while doing your daily eavesdropping at the Writing Center?

Comments!!!

3 comments:

  1. I would have to say...yes. There was one instance last week that the writer was all over the place and I was thinking to myself, "This paper is a mess, what a nightmare!" And the writer was just as spasmodic as her paper. I was amazed at the way the veteran was able to smooth her mood out and get her to focus. By the end of the session, she had a plan and was visibly calmer about the task at hand. It did take most of the session to get her to focus though. I have my doubts about my ability to help such a student. Being able to help writers with their work is a completely different thing than being able to write. I just hope that some of the veteran’s apparent super-powers are contagious....

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  2. Does this kind of educational genius come naturally, or is it the result of experience in tutoring? I have always felt confident as a writer, but I am just now starting to realize that being a good writer and being a good writing tutor require different abilities and strengths. I could have written that girl's paper backwards, forwards, and inside-out! However, that's not what she came to the Writing Center for. When it came to HELPING HER write her paper, I struggled.

    My fellow 303 students, have any of you felt this way while doing your daily eavesdropping at the Writing Center?


    YES, definitely. I think I come by my writing abilities naturally; however, I do believe tutoring writing is a whole new ballgame. You are not alone in your thinking that a good writing tutor requires different strengths and abilities. I feel the same way, and am learning a lot in the ENGL 303 class, Tutoring Writing, and from our textbook, The St. Martin's Sourcebook for Writing Tutors. I have found both to be extremely helpful when I have been observing a tutoring session. So

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  3. To answer your question, YES.

    It’s so much more difficult to help someone their own paper than it would be to simply write the paper for them!

    Often, after a writer has finished reading their work, my mind is left completely blank. Either the paper seems alright and I wouldn’t know what to suggest, or there is so much that needs work that I wouldn’t know where to start. However, I wouldn’t say that being momentarily dumbfounded is always a bad thing. For one thing, a long silence can help you and the writer get their thoughts organized. In most consultations I have observed, the writer makes many of their own corrections after hearing themselves read out loud. Also, after a little bit of quiet, I am usually able to think of some good suggestions.

    I’m sure that learning effective tutoring methods is something that comes with experience. At least that is what I keep telling myself! In the meantime, it is probably a good idea not to stress too much and not to try and fill up every second with sound! (So difficult when there are those awkward silences!)

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