Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Steps to Success: Examining the Effectiveness of Follow-up Consultations

It started as any other consultation with a graduate student. I met the student, Kevin, and discovered that he wanted help with his journal article. He had been to the University Writing Center (UWC) once before a few months ago, so he had an idea of the kind of work we do. His concerns centered mostly on article use and the structure of sentences. I was also able to identify comma use errors and some capitalization issues when naming proper nouns. Overall, Kevin was eager to learn. It seemed more important to him to really understand the underlying concepts we discussed rather than just covering as much ground as possible. This was my first hint that perhaps this client could benefit from a more long-term consultative relationship. As we neared the end of the session, Kevin mentioned that he was very happy with the feedback I was giving him and wanted to know if he could meet with me again. I was about to give him the normal line about how everyone is just as qualified – which they absolutely are – to help him when I stopped, thinking that maybe it was a good time to try out something new: I decided to schedule a follow-up appointment with Kevin.

Ever since starting at the University Writing Center (UWC), I have considered the possibility of performing follow-up consultations as a method for enhancing student learning. I am particularly interested in the idea of building a professional relationship to create a mutually beneficial consultative session. Follow-up consultations are not currently practiced at the UWC, but after obtaining approval, I decided to give this idea a shot to see firsthand the effect of multiple visits.

We met again early the next week. I expected that we would again focus on the journal article, but when he arrived, Kevin indicated that a grant application had come up, and he wanted to look over the short essay. I was initially disappointed, thinking that this is the kind of circumstance that not having follow-ups was to prevent against: leapfrogging from one assignment to another at the client’s whim. But he was there, so I somewhat reluctantly looked with him at his essay. How surprised I was! I had told him last time that follow-ups are out of the ordinary, and because of this, he would be expected to review the work we had done and really attempt to internalize and apply the lessons to the rest of the paper before we actually were to meet. Now, we were looking at a completely different document with a completely different purpose, but Kevin had applied all of the lessons from the previous session to this new one. His articles were almost flawless. His commas still needed work, but he easily identified errors when we talked about them and was able to defend his decisions in using them. We made it through the paper, highlighting new areas of concern. I ended the session by reminding him of these specific points and suggesting that he concentrate on these areas before meeting again.

The next time we met was two weeks later. There were some scheduling conflicts, but finally we were able to have our third and final meeting. This time, Kevin wanted to concentrate on more of a macro focus on the end of his article. He wanted to see if his complex ideas made sense to me, a lay person. As we read, I was again ecstatic to see the commas, articles, and capitalization used almost flawlessly. Sure, there were a few errors here and there, and we worked on some wording issues, but overall, the result was a paper that was understandable and, above all, readable. As we ended, Kevin’s words summed up the experience best; he told me that he truly felt that he had been equipped to tackle these writing issues on his own. Though he expressed interest in returning to the UWC in the future, he felt much more confident in his own written skills.

As a result of this interaction, I can definitely see the potential benefit of an established partnership between consultant and client. Given the right kind of motivated student and confident consultant, I feel that such a learning experience will only serve to further our mission at the UWC: to equip writers with the tools to build their own success. This was only a preliminary trial run, but I invite anyone who has a similar experience to comment with your own results and thoughts. I hope that through such interactions, we may serve our clientele that much better.

1 comment:

  1. I have had a similar experience with a student who schedules an appointment with me every Tuesday morning. He has a weekly assignment in his computer ethics course, in which he has to summarize an article and offer a response. This is the eigth week that I have worked with him, and I have seen his writing improve a lot. This student is also an English Language Learner (ELL).

    In the first couple of weeks that I worked with the student, I saw that he struggled with run-on sentences. Each week I pointed these out, told him that they were long and confusing, and then showed him different ways to remedy them.

    By the fourth week of the quarter I started noticing that there were fewer and fewer run-ons, and he was using more semicolons and dashes to break up the run-ons that he did not want to split into two separate sentences. More importanly, he was coming to understand why he might want to choose one option over the others! I was very happy for him, and he continues to improve each week. However, I think that he represents a special case.

    Just like Kevin at the UWC, he wanted to learn how to correct his mistakes, not just get them pointed out to him. A lot of the students that come through the doors of our writing center want a consultation more akin to damage control than constructive feedback.

    So far in my experience, follow up appointments work great with those students who genuinely want to learn how to prevent their mistakes, and they should get them. But, the question I would like to pose is how do we get those nuggets of information to students that are not as enthusiastic as Kevin and my student are?