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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Consultations to fulfill class/assignment requirements

Hello, this is Eric from the BSU Writing Center. We had a discussion in class the other day about students who come in to the writing center to fulfill a requirement for an assignment. In other words, a student gets points for turning in proof of a writing center consultation. Some tutors thought this was irritating because the student may show a lack of concern and involvement with the session, caring only about getting the proof of consultation form and not about learning or improving their writing. The idea came up that these sessions steal time away from writers who earnestly want help with their writing.

I am not entirely sure where I stand on this issue, though, because I can see some positive aspects of these sessions. A situation like this can make for a frustrating and unproductive session, but it could also be a means of introducing the benefits of a writing consultation to someone who otherwise would have never explored what the writing center has to offer. Personally, I never made an appointment at the center before taking this class and becoming a tutor, simply because I never thought I needed one, but once I had one, I realized how helpful it can be just to have someone else to read my paper and discuss my writing. I have experienced one or two of these frustrating sessions, but I also have had teacher-assigned sessions in which students found that they had benefited from the experience more than they expected. I can also understand that if a writing center appointment is required for an assignment, a student may feel uncomfortable or unsure about what to say or what to ask for help on. However, many students can be difficult and have unfair expectations. Whatever the circumstances, I think we should try to remain as helpful and amiable as possible. Worst-case scenario, the students don't come back and we have a frustrating session. Best-case scenario, we have a successful session and a student who would otherwise be unaware of the center's benefits may return for future sessions.
Thoughts?

6 comments:

  1. So, after the discussion in 303 class we had a little while ago about students who come to the writing center per their teacher’s request but just don’t want to be there. My first thought was, “If the writer isn’t interested in working on their paper, then I shouldn’t be forcing them to.” However, after our discussion in class I began to see the other side of the problem. It is true that we the consultants are trained to know what to look for, and maybe we can help them understand new things about writing. Maybe I am just giving up too easily; maybe in my worry that I will be taking over the consultation, I am not doing enough.
    A while ago I had a consultation with a writer who was only interested in getting a yellow slip of paper, but this time instead of me just saying, “Well, if there’s nothing else you want to look at, I suppose we’re done.” I started asking them questions about why they did certain things in their paper, and we got into a conversation about the paper. We talked about all these ideas and they told me about all these ideas they had for expanding the paper; it ended up being a great consultation.
    So, the verdict? There is no single correct answer, of course. I still don’t think that forcing the writer to do anything is the way to go, but I think that many people don’t understand the services the writing center has to offer. We have a lot more to offer than just a fix-it shop. I think we have to take the time to help writers realize this.

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  2. I agree with y'all. However, while I think that face-to-face consultations are great opportunities for breaking through writers' negative perceptions, I don't think the same is true through email.

    At Boise State, many teachers who require visits to the Writing Center allow their students to use our email service, in which we read a draft and email back a letter of feedback. Since we are super-busy and only have limited consultants, our email service is often jam-packed. I find myself resenting time spent on email consultations that are from students in classes I know require them to use the Writing Center, especially when they don't pose any specific questions or concerns with their draft, just 'whatever.'

    What percentage of these writers read my letter of feedback, before stapling it to their drafts to turn in to their teachers? While I like seeing the conversion of a writer forced to be in a session to a writer surprised and happy with time spent in the Center, I can't see this through email.

    I think this is b/c I'd like the service to stay available for students who find feedback letters helpful...but maybe I really just need to see happy writers...maybe it is my own hangup...

    :)

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  3. Anonymous11:50 AM

    We had this issue last year. Most of the students were unwilling and reluctant. I even had one student who "didn't need the help" because she was an English major. Apparently, being an English major makes you excempt from any possible mistakes. Whatever.

    Typically, I find it unnecessary, frustrating, and useless. I'd say once in a while you'll get a student who suddenly thinks, "They, that was helpful, I should go again," but most the time, that won't happen.

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  4. Hiho, Katherine from BSU here. I put my subversive hat on for the first time yesterday; one of those "whatever" students came in and didn't want me to read aloud, so I sat there holding their paper and going "hmmmmm....interesting choice. Hmmm. Well...hmmm." After a minute or so of this I had them nervous enough to ask me if anything was wrong. Then I could put on a big smile and say "Not so much wrong as stylistically interesting. Can you tell me why you put your thesis in the second paragraph?" and we had a great consultation after that. But I have to admit I felt very manipulative, even though I was pleased.

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  5. I like the idea of being manipulative with apathetic writers. That strikes me as rather enjoyable and rewarding.

    On a more pedagogically sound point, I wonder what this sort of discussion would look like to a writer. Sure, writers are required to come in, and yes they do 'steal' time from those who are eager to work with us, but does that mean eager writers are more worthy of our time?
    I do not think anyone on this blog believes that, but to a writer glancing at this post and comments, it could seem that way.

    I am guilty of feeling the same way at times, and I argue long and loud with other TA's to not use the WC as a 'fix-it' shop, but there is a level of betrayal when a writer only wants proof they came to an appointment.
    Wow, that is a terrible sentence.
    Anyways, my point is we could learn about ourselves if we look at our discussions as a new writer with no WC experience. This post was just a convenient example.

    I still really like being manipulative, however.

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  6. Ahh, manipulation is fun. I do like to keep those unwilling writers for the ENTIRE session. But even though I am a little nefarious, I still like to think they benefit from the encounter. I try to make it count, just like all of my other sessions, but I find that I stick to more obvious things like thesis and structure with these sessions. I do this mostly because this is commonly what I see coming up as problem areas, but also because I think these areas are more concrete and have the most impact when they are discused. Really, I have found that if you keep pointing out things to a writer, whether they want to be there or not, they get engaged with the process. Nobody really wants to have a bad paper. And in this way, nefarious or not, you can use your percieved authority powers for good.

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